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Statendam: Auckland to Sydney
About the Virtual Cruise
Statendam: Auckland to Sydney Cruise Critic's Editor Carolyn Spencer Brown traveled to the other end of the earth (literally!), not to mention another hemisphere, on an Australia/New Zealand cruise aboard Holland America's Statendam.

The trip began with a few pre-cruise days in Auckland, New Zealand's most cosmopolitan hub, before Spencer Brown headed to the South Island, where she picked up the ship in Christchurch. Statendam then traveled to Dunedin, another of the South Island's picturesque places, before taking a turn in the Fjordland National Park (think Alaska but even more dramatic and, get this: fewer ships -- and less people!).

The ship then sailed across the Tasman Sea to Burnie, an offbeat port in Tasmania, and then on to Australia's vibrant Melbourne, before winding up in Sydney.

In the midst, Spencer Brown also wrote about (much appreciated) days at sea onboard Statendam, a ship that may have built in the mid-1990's (almost considered cruising's pre-historic era), but one that has been given a new life thanks to the line's innovative "Signature of Excellence" program.

Whether you are definitely planning a visit to the vast outreaches of the South Pacific's Australia and New Zealand (regardless of ship), or are simply fantasizing about the possibilities, don't miss her daily reports.

Image copyright Peter Morath/Tourism New Zealand.
Day 1: Auckland
Day 2: Auckland/Christchurch
Day 3: Dunedin
Day 4: Milford Sound
Day 5: At Sea
Day 6: At Sea
Day 7: Burnie
Day 8: Melbourne
Day 9: Sydney
Related Links
Statendam ship review
Statendam Member reviews
Australia & New Zealand Cruises
Australia & New Zealand Messages
Holland America Messages
Day 1: Friday, Auckland
AucklandIn a tiny souvlaki shop in downtown Auckland, a map of the world is tacked, rather haphazardly, to the wall. But on this wacky map the countries we think of as "down under" -- specifically Australia and New Zealand -- have been moved, up above. Indeed, geography as we know it had been flip-flopped, with south-of-the-equator places like this one, along with New Zealand's South Island and the entire land mass of Tasmania and Australia, all resting prominently on top of the map. Their north-of-the-equator counterparts -- Asia, Europe and North America -- were smooshed way down below, looking as if they were incredibly remote and, indeed, located way off sightseers' paths most trodden.

Of course the irony is that for those of us "up north," a trip to Australia and New Zealand is still an exotic adventure, even though for most of us it "merely" requires a 14-hour flight from the U.S. West Coast onboard a quite comfortable wide-body jet engine, rather than the Viking ships of yore that took months if not years and offered no comforts at all.

No question, it's a long way to travel. This being my first trip across the international date line -- not to mention my first trip all the way to Australia and New Zealand -- the first big shock is the time and distance. After taking off from San Francisco at about 7:30 p.m. the night before (I think), we flew, in a darkness that never once turned to dawn, to Auckland, New Zealand's most cosmopolitan city. I believe we arrived two days later, at 5:30 a.m. It's still dark. And I feel as if I've been cosseted in a time capsule for so long that I've quite lost touch with the literal reality of life (even in a fully packed coach section, the Air New Zealand plane was comfortable -- fabulous service, excellent food and individual seatback televisions).

Not able to garner any sense of what kind of jet lag to expect (Europe we've got down, but this?), we arrived at our hotel, the Heritage Auckland, at 6:30 a.m. and lamely attempted to check in, not at all expecting to find success. The fact that the desk clerk worked his hotel computer gamely for some 20 minutes to find an available room in a hotel registering 98 percent occupancy -- and then, ultimately succeeded (and we got a really nice room!) was the first sign that visitors in New Zealand are prized and valued. Indeed, it's as if they're just glad you made the long trip. Almost everywhere we went -- restaurants, shops, buses and taxis -- everyone was incredibly warm, friendly, helpful and outgoing. And get this: Gratuities are neither as prized nor as expected as they are in our part of the world, and our occasional efforts to proffer a dollar or two were met more with embarrassment than expectation (though restaurants do sometimes leave a space on the receipt to include a tip).

That first day in Auckland (we went on to spend three days in and around the city before joining our cruise in Christchurch), we took it fairly easy. Our hotel, located smack in the heart of what is called the Central Business District (CBD), proved to be a great choice as we could easily come and go on foot.

By 3 p.m., when our energy really did flag, we'd learned enough about Auckland to know our way around. Some highlights?

A visit to Auckland's iconic Sky Tower is the perfect first stop. At 1,082 feet high, it's got an observation deck that offers a fantastic 360-degree view of the city and beyond. As such, it's a great way to get your bearings, showing us where, for instance, the Greek Revival-styled Auckland Museum was (set grandly amidst glorious lush lawns, it was impossible to miss from above). You get a sense of how broad the harbor area is in this waterfront city; the hub, it's easy to see from here, is located along the stretch anchored by the surprisingly boutique-style Hilton Hotel and extends beyond the Ferry Building to the commercial port area. That's where you find ferries to take you to Auckland's outlying islands, not to mention cafes and coffee bars. And the islands -- wow! -- they really inspire you to "get out there ..."

Another day, alas.

Sky Tower is the hub of a massive downtown shopping and entertainment complex. Arriving before the tower actually opened, we tucked in to a delicious, English-style cooked breakfast of poached eggs and bacon that looked like ham at a cafe in the indoor mall there. This part of town is home to most of Auckland's hotels and businesses. For shoppers, Queen Street begins at the harbor and extends, upwardly, for many blocks (Auckland is replete with hills). There you'll find the "usual" New Zealand High Street kind of stores, but since this was our first morning ever in the country they all seemed exotic even if fashions (for young folk) seemed disconcertingly similar to those sold in malls across America. Don't miss Smith & Caughey, the town's big department store -- it's a great place to get a handle on clothes made by the genuinely unique New Zealand fashion community. And another great street for one-of-a-kind boutiques is the tiny Vulcan Lane, which runs from Queen Street to O'Donnell. Hungry? Stop at Occidental, a friendly and fun Belgian pub with excellent mussels that come steam or grilled. As well, there are a handful of New Zealand "souvenir" shops along the strip -- most are nothing like the cheap shot glass tchotchkes that you'd expect but are stocked with elegant, beautifully made woolens. Pricey, too.

One shock, and let me warn you right off, is that Auckland is an expensive city. Despite the fact that the U.S. dollar is worth about $1.30 to the New Zealand dollar (NZ), a Coke could easily run you $3 NZ, a cup of black coffee about $2.50 NZ and "mains" (their word for what we normally think of as entrees) on most menus we saw started at $25 NZ. I bought a paperback -- great selection, by the way, much of which is from England -- at Whitcoull's, New Zealand's national bookstore chain, and it cost $25.99 NZ. Even with the exchange rate, it's all still a bit pricey.

One of the other surprises about the city of Auckland -- and we mean the CBD and the high-rise area, not the entire breadth of it -- is that it's not quite as attractive as I'd envisioned. No question the waterfront is pretty, with its scenic backdrop of mountains across the Waitemata Harbor, and both the historic Ferry Building and the surprisingly stark, Grecian-contemporary-styled Hilton Hotel lend it some character.

But Auckland's downtown looks like it began to prosper in the 1970's, a time when sleek and stylish architecture was less popular than Soviet-style concrete. Another down side: it's easy to see that for a city whose most iconic symbol is the concrete and glass Sky Tower, built in 1996, historic structures take a bit of a back seat -- so much that, aside from a few exceptions (the ferry building for one), older structures were not refurbished but instead torn down to make way for newer ones.

That's why we loved the neighborhood of Parnell. An easy 20-minute ride on The Link, a city bus that runs continuously in a loop through various neighborhoods and downtown (try to have change in the exact $1.30 form), Parnell feels much more like a village than an adjunct to a big city. There are numerous cottages dating back at least to the early 20th century, featuring vibrant colors and Victorian touches like intricate woodwork. More important is what they house -- small shops with works by local artisans that ranged from handmade New Zealand wool sweaters to this most fascinating door mat made of sea stones (how would you carry that home? Alas, we couldn't satisfactorily figure out a way). One upmarket shop is quite proud to boast that President Clinton bought some of its quite expensive and beautiful contemporary glassware.

Key to any truly enjoyable bout of exploring art galleries and shopping boutiques is the presence of numerous cafes, many of them featuring sidewalk tables and coffee bars, mixed among the stores.

Still, the harborfront called, so we made our way back to the Harbourside Seafood Bar and Grill, one of the city's best seafood restaurants. It's located on the second floor of the historic Ferry Building and has lovely appeal -- especially since we snagged a table on its fabulous deck overlooking the harbor, ferry terminal and cruise ship dock. A light lunch of grilled calamari salad and a glass of New Zealand's Oyster Bay sauvignon blanc turned into dinner as well -- not because we overstayed our welcome, mind you. But by 6 p.m., a quick nap, aimed at refreshing us for an evening on the town in Auckland, turned into a full 12-hour slumber. So this is the New Zealand form of jet lag!

Tomorrow, we switch hotels and head out on the water to visit some of the city's most intriguing island communities before heading to Christchurch to board our ship.

Photo appears courtesy of Tourism Auckland.
  Day 2: Auckland/Christchurch

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